Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Global warming? Bring it on ...

Well, I suppose you want to know what our Christmas was like: I gather that yours was as it should be, nice and bright and warm with meat and things sizzling on the barbecue ... here it snowed. Again. So we had a white - for once - and very chilly Christmas.

Sort of as planned (which is a fancy way of saying "as planned, but later"), we headed off to Mumblefuck for lunch, and as we didn't have to we didn't stuff ourselves until food came out our ears. My suggestion of a barbecue got rejected more or less out of hand, which I thought was rather unfair, so it was just foie gras, salmon with gratin savoyard and gratin de scorzonère (don't bother looking it up, it's "black salsify" and you won't find it), then good old-fashioned Christmas cake, whilst outside a howling gale (have I ever mentioned that Mumblefuck is particularly well-exposed?) blew the snow around in flurries.

We didn't stint on the wine either, for once: Bryan brought along a number of rather nice bottles and as we weren't planning on leaving too early there was no point in being too abstemious. And anyway, the cars know the road.

I had - perhaps foolishly - promised Mal and Tony that I'd take them to Lyon, so that's what I did on Sunday. It was a beautiful, bright, and wickedly cold day, and things started to go titsup when we got to the péage at Chignin and noticed that the autoroute was completely blocked in both directions. So I did something completely illegal and reversed two or three hundred metres out of there, and we took the nationale via les Echelles.

Which was absolutely gorgeous, with this wonderfully bright blue sky and the forests around covered in a thick blanket of snow, and as for going through the gorges ... a bit hair-raising in places mind you, where there was slush on the road that had until recently been ice, and after delicately negociating a couple of particularly nasty corners I resolved to definitely not come back home that way.

I'd spent a considerable amount of time that morning trying to get the GPS on my phone to work, only to find - to my considerable annoyance - that the GPS app supplied by Samsung had (many say at the insistence of Bouygues) been removed. God alone knows why - a case, I suppose, of the network operators not wanting to surrender a revenue stream and so, despite having nothing to offer in its place, shut it down. Particularly short-sighted if you ask me, as I will definitely consider other operators the next time I renew my phone contract. Not that they aren't all a pack of slaveringly rabid brain-dead scavengers and bottom-feeders, but I might chance upon one that's a bit less stupid. Although I'm not going to bet actual money on that.

Whatever, I could - and did - download Mappy, which is OK if I happen to be within reach of a Wifi hotspot and need a map of the district (Wifi 'cos after that I'm certainly not going to be shelling out extra to Bouygues for the data transfers), but it was of no earthly use to me for navigating around Lyon, so I dug out the old Taride map of the dump and a scrappy bit of paper, and noted the instructions down. Just like in the good old days.

Which probably goes some way to explaining why it was that we found ourselves orbiting Lyon on the periphérique, having followed the signposts pointing to Centre Ville rather than my gut. Still, despite doing an enormous loop around the outskirts rather than barrelling straight through the place as I'd planned, we did eventually get somewhere we actually wanted to be, and promptly parked.

Underneath the Opéra, as it happens, which was pretty good planning all things considered. It's but a hop, skip and a jump from the Hôtel de Ville, the enormous courtyard of which is adorned by a fountain depicting some half-naked bint with rather nice knockers in a chariot, towed by four horses. I seem to recall reading somewhere about that, and the horses symbolise the four great rivers of France or something, but I suggest you not take my word for that. Not if you have an exam question on it or something like that, where they rather boringly expect answers to conform slavishly to physical reality rather than accept that although not, in the strict sense of the term, correct, they should be. In a better world.

The one place Tony really wanted to see was the basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvières, which sits upon a hilltop on the western bank of the Rhône. It's actually quite easy to get to from le vieux Lyon: we just headed south for a couple of blocks, then across the Rhône (I was so glad I'd brought my overcoat and scarf, should've brought my Turoa ski bonnet as well and to hell with the snide sartorial comments), and wound up at the foot of la montée de Fourvières.

Which is, for your information, a stone staircase. Which, as the name suggests, goes up. And then, when you've run out of breath, goes up some more. And then carries on, with more of the same, until you get almost to the top of the hill at which point the stairs run out (probably out of breath) and you get to walk along the winding, climbing and exceedingly icy paths of the botanical gardens. Until eventually (assuming you haven't slipped to your death) you get to the actual basilica. From which you do, I must admit, get a wonderful view over the whole of Lyon: you also - on a winter's day at least, with a typical Lyonnais northerly blowing - get freeze-dried in about thirty seconds flat. And I would like to point out that a polished marble parvis with ice on it can be pretty bloody lethal.

I don't think I've ever been so happy to get inside a church in my life.

Mind you, I was even happier later on when, having negociated the steps of doom in the downwards sense (even easier to slip on the ice that way) and wandered a bit through the ruelles of the old town, we went into a bar. Well, to be exact, we went into two. The first was cosy, woodpanelled, warm and oozing ambiance, but I can only assume that despite their prices they actually lost money on every client they served. At any rate, they were in no hurry to serve us, and whilst I'm not particularly hung up on this idea of having a waiter come up and stick a menu in your face within 5 microseconds of your having entered a place, I do appreciate being asked what I'd like to drink before dying of actual dehydration.

So we left there (no-one seemed to care very much) and went next door, where we actually got served. And I found a shekel on the floor, which is apparently an unlucky thing to do because then we left Lyon. I had planned to cross the river and just head east, but thanks to the one-way system you can't actually do that without breaking several laws, so like good little sheep we followed the signs and wound up back on the periphérique again. It'll become an old friend one of these days.

I could handle that, but then we got onto the autoroute and then up to the péage, where things definitely got gross. Half of bloody Paris must have been on the road, hoping to get up to the ski stations before midnight. Personally, I would not have bet on it. I'll spare you the gory details, suffice it to say that what would, under normal circumstances, have been an hour's trip took us two and a half hours. I was very good, and only twice lamented my lack of foresight in not specifying the laser cannon option for the car.

Anyway, this one's for Malyon, 'cos she asked really nicely: proper bastard puff pastry for quiches and stuff. You start off with a cup of flour and about 50gm of butter in chunks, which you then smear into the flour using the tines of a sturdy fork. You do not want to wind up with something having the appearance of breadcrumbs, but rather floury chunks of butter. Then add an egg and about an egg-shell's worth of milk and mix it all together roughly with your trusty fork until it just holds together and then form it into a ball: do resist the temptation to knead it.

Now you just need to roll it out thinly on a floured table: if you've done it right you'll have big flat smears of butter in it, which are what makes it go flaky (I cannot truthfully say that it puffs up) when cooked. Then line a pie-dish with it and build a quiche on top - or a mushroom flan, or whatever else takes your fancy.

And by the way, Happy New Year. We'll try to think of you enjoying a New Year's day BBQ whilst we're snuggled under the blankets with a warm cocoa, but I can't promise anything.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hairy Gristlemouse ...

Well, the various man-traps have been laid just in case le Père Noel should be silly enough to visit (and stupid enough to try to make it down the chimney), the halls have been decked, the tree has been illuminated and the sideboards are groaning under the weight of mince pies, roast game, several geese and a partridge in a pear tree: the kids have announced their intention to wake us as soon as it's legally Christmas so I suppose we're about as ready as we'll ever be.

And we've tight security measures in place to avoid any repetition of last year's little debâcle when some drunk Swedish bint on a boating holiday blundered into the kitchen asking for directions to the canal du Midi and was promptly overcome by the whisky fumes from the maturing Christmas cake.

Fortunately, this being France the gendarmerie are always willing to help, although to this day I still have absolutely no idea why he was wearing a California Highway Patrol uniform and was accompanied by a giant alien slug, who took what I personally feel to be a rather unhealthy interest in the proceedings.

Still, it turned out for the best in the end, for when the officer was himself somewhat incapacitated by the spirituous vapours his friend was able to remove the pair of them before things got too ugly, and let us get on with the meal.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Things to do with the family jewels ...

In recent news from the world of medicine, researchers have used human testicles  (male, fairly obviously) to restore pancreatic function in diabetic mice. We really, really need more studies like this. I mean, I bet there's not one of you that has not, at some time, stood sadly watching your beloved pet mouse frisking - slowly - around his cage and thought "Gosh! Wouldn't it be neat if I could donate one of my/my partner's (delete where not applicable) goolies so that little (insert name here) could lead a happy and fulfilling life, and never again have track lines from shooting up insulin?'

This is the sort of stuff real scientists should be doing. That, and of course working on reducing a megawatt semiconductor laser and associated power supply to the point where it can be implanted in a shark's head.

I'm pretty sure that I mentioned we were off to Bryan's for a housewarming last weekend? Well, we made it. And it was, in fact, us that were warming the house (apartment, whatever, let's not be picky) because the central heating certainly wasn't: he'd managed (god alone knows how) to get the gas turned on but the man that looks after the boiler was a no-show, so it stayed off. Whatever, we had enough to eat and drink, and the colour scheme was definitely warming.

Someone definitely loved fire engines. Or perhaps just painted them for a living.

Picked up Mal and Tony from Geneva on Thursday and dropped them home. We've strict instructions from Malyon not to frighten him or behave too wierdly: apparently she wants to keep him. Mind you, I'm not too sure she's really helping matters by telling him that I might be bringing the shotgun along ...

Do you know what I've done just now? At 11pm on a Friday night? Shovelled 50cm of snow from off and around my bloody car, that's what. Woke up this morning to find the world covered in white stuff - yet again - and when I went down to get the car I found her shivering and surrounded by snow. The snowplough had in fact come up our street at some ungodly hour of the moaning, and thoughtfully left a wall of snow about a metre high across the entrance to the little carpark below the cemetery where the Alfa lives, and looking at that and at the state of the roads it seemed pretty obvious that I wasn't going to be taking her into work.

Luckily Margo's little Suzuki is much better on snow than my poor thing with her fat tyres. Although the trip back home was a bit of an adventure: I had to get out and push on a couple of occasions going up a few little hills where the road was covered in slush on ice. Some of the cars behinds us weren't as lucky.

Today dawned bright and clear - and bloody cold, at -9°. But I very very cautiously manoeuvred the car down the hill to where the roads were clear and headed off to Chambéry anyway: we'd run out of wine and other vital supplies. Despite the season the supermarkets were still pretty deserted, which is always good. And the little man handing out slabs of foie gras on toast was there again, which was even better.

And as it's the season for goodwill and generous acts, I even searched out a little producteur at the market who does what they call "les legumes oubliés" and got some parsnip for Margo, to roast with the chicken tonight. (Should you ever find yourself in a French market filled with a desire for parsnip, the word is panais, by the way.)

Then off to Sophie's for the usual after-market apéro, and I made something for lunch that really is too good not to be shared. It's remarkably simple, and requires a glass of white wine to make the sauce, which would have to make it a favourite. It is - drumroll please - Turbans de saumon aux coquilles St-Jacques.

Basically, you start off with a fillet of salmon: not too thick. (I had to cut mine in half lengthways - lucky I just happen to have a decent filleting knife.) Then you remove the skin, which you should not throw away, because you'll need it later on. Now cut the fillet and skin into strips about 3cm wide.

Once this is done just roll up a scallop in each strip of salmon fillet, and wrap a strip of the skin decoratively around each roll: not only is it pretty, it acts as a sort of hernia girdle during cooking. Put them aside and start doing something useful, like getting whatever it is you're planning on eating with them ready. (Personally, I'd go - in fact, went - for asparagus. But pois gourmands - that's mangetout to you - would be good too.)

Ah, you also have to make the sauce. Which is where the white wine comes in. Amongst other things. Start off by chopping a small onion, ditto an apple: let them melt for a bit in some butter over low heat. When they've started to colour a bit add a dose of decent curry powder and the glass of white, and let it all reduce for ten minutes or so.

Under normal circumstances I'd use an immersion blender (yes, we got one when Malyon was still cute and toothless) or, in the worst case, a sieve to mix everything together: Sophie is not, unfortunately, that well-equipped so I wound up squeezing the apples and onions against the side of the saucepan with a spoon (to get the max of juice out) and straining the lot through a colander. Whatever works for you.

After all that, just add a couple of tablespoons of sour cream, some saffron if you're feeling luxurious, and a tablespoon or so of butter: incorporate all that and keep it warm whilst you cook the salmon. Which is also simple (just as well, as you've probably finished off the bottle of white by now):  stick them in a decent frying pan on top of some sizzling butter for about five minutes to cook the underside, then put the lot under a really hot grill for another five minutes to finish the job.

Arrange on (heated) plates, slosh some sauce over, and there you have it.

Eventually Sophie had to leave for Aix, and I  had in fact planned on following her fairly quickly. As it happens the first 20 metres went fine: then I got to the uphill bit in the driveway, and it became clear that I was not going to get out without help. Luckily, I had the chains in the car: rather less luckily, it's been at least six years since I last had to put the damn things on, and the instructions are in Polish. Or Czech, or some other language completely lacking in vowels.

And the helpful little diagrams are sod-all use, 'cos by the time you've got the chains around the tyre they look nothing at all like the picture (it probably doesn't help that the things seem to spend their time in the box tying themselves into knots), and the little stick-figure drawing of a man with a smily face on the last page is nothing short of insulting.

Whatever, after a half hour of muffled cursing I finally got the things on, triumphantly drove the 40m up to the road, and then took the damn things off again. Bloody marvellous. And I bet I looked a right prat - could probably have sold tickets to watch the spectacle.

Anyway, Margo had some plates and stuff that we most emphatically do not want to see ever again to drop off to Bryan, and Mal, Jerry and Tony wanted to do some Christmas shopping in Chambéry, so I though that rather than go home to be welcomed by the dog I might as well meet up with them. Which is what I did.

Parked in one of the little side streets behind Curial, fell heavily on my arse getting out, and wound up at Cardinal's for a couple of beers whilst waiting for the kids to finish.

As luck would have it, there's a little bouquiniste on one of the little cobbled streets off Place Metropole who always has interesting stuff in the window. So although the light was poor and I didn't have a tripod with me, I took a photo anyway. Don't show this to your kids, they might start asking questions you do not wish to answer at this time.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The duck, in all its splendour ...

Well, as it happens it's perfect weather for a confit, which is, as everyone knows, about 90% hot grease. After that wonderful day yesterday it finally turned to rain, more or less as promised, today, so it's chilly, gray and dismal. Just right. I could also murder a cassoulet, but that'll have to wait.

Anyway, I stole the recipe I use from Charcuterie by Ruhlman & Polcyn: the first - and so far, the only - book I ever bought on Amazon. Not that that's stopped their marketing droids sending me regular e-mails suggesting that as I liked that book I might just enjoy "Joy of Tantric Cooking", or "Sex and the Kitchen". Personally I doubt it, but you have to admire their optimism.

Whatever, you start out, naturally enough, with some duck bits. Legs are good, and if it's a big duck the upper wings - what Frog-persons call the manchon - have good eating on them too. Stick whatever you've managed to get hold of flesh-side up in a dish just large for them and set that aside, out of reach of the cat. And when that's done, peel an orange and finely chop the peel (you can use a zester but I personally find them buggers to clean), smash a couple of cloves of garlic and finely chop a thumb-sized lump of fresh green ginger. And a spring onion, while you're at it.

Then it's time to get that electric coffee-grinder that you never use anymore out from its hiding-place at the back of the cupboard in the pantry (or maybe you're well-equipped and actually have a spice grinder), put two heads of badiane (aka star anise) and a stick of cinnamon bark in it, and whizz them excitedly until they're coarsely ground. Then sprinkle that over the duck flesh and rub it in a bit, before sprinkling evrything else over and pressing it in. Finally, strew a couple of tbsp of kosher salt over everything, press that in too, and put the lot in the fridge overnight.

About four hours before you plan on eating, scrape the duck clean, rinse it (just how enthusiastically you do that depends on how salty you like your confit) and pat it dry, then put it skin side down in a deep frying pan or whatever (I happen to have a nice big stainless-steel casserole from Ikea which is just the right size for six to eight duck legs) and put that on a gentle heat to start rendering the fat. After half an hour or so there should be quite a bit: this is good. And at this point you could usefully turn the meat over, still on a gentle heat, so that the flesh starts to cook in its own fat.

This, on the other hand, is not confit but a clafouti. I had the oven on anyway, and it seemed a shame not to use it to the full ... Anyway, you've doubtless got the idea by now: just let it cook gently for about three hours, turning occasionally. Cover it if you like: I usually do, and I've not noticed any bad side-effects. If anything, it probably cooks a bit quicker as the meat that's not bathed in grease cooks slowly in the steam. Anyway, when the meat starts to fall off the bones it's about ready: put it in a dish in the oven to keep warm.

The best way I've found to not waste all that wonderfully healthy cholesterol is just to cook some cubed potatoes in it, sprinkled with some herbes de provence: like that the fat just magically disappears, and you can scrape up all the lovely brown crispy bits from the bottom of the pan. And when that's done, turn the heat up and put the duck back in skin side down for ten minutes or so, just to get the skin nice and crispy.

You will note that, unusually for me, there is no alcohol involved in all this. Make up for lost time by drinking  a good burgundy, or a Chateauneuf du Pape, with it. Your liver will thank you for it.

And whilst I think of it - for reasons which are not particularly germane to the issue at hand, so I'll spare you the sordid details - what is it with bloody Yoda? Apart from being a two-foot short dwarf with  incredibly bad hair and pointy ears, which I can see could give you a bad attitude ... but why does he hate the English language so? I've thought about this for some time, and come to the conclusion that he's either an aphasic retard or an incredibly long-lived Nazi war criminal who's taken refuge on Tatooine after a few botched dentistry jobs (the ones where you drill out the caries without having the patient open their mouth).

I mean, his entire sentence structure German is: gotta wait until the end of five paragraphs to get to the verb and work out about what he's going on. Insidious little sod, even got me doing it. Exterminated he shall be.

On the agenda for the coming weekend: Bryan's housewarming (just hope I don't wind up, after more telephonic confusion, at Bruno's instead). He's finally committed himself and bought an apartment in Chambéry: currently hasn't managed to get the heating working, so it must be all of -5° inside - so the whole lot of us are supposed to turn up on Sunday bearing food, drinks, and lumps of coal. To burn in the middle of the floor. We shall have a barbecue!

On arrival we'll each get handed a paintbrush, a bottle of paintstripper (and a few ice-cubes, just to be civilised) or a spatula to get to work on the "decor" which is, let it be admitted, pretty bloody dire. There must have been some sort of collective psychosis back in the 60's leading to walls being painted in bordeaux red with dark wood half-panelling, stuff like that: glad I missed out on it. At least the bathroom ceiling isn't black, or purple. Yet.

On the other hand, I'm not entirely sure how wer'll all fit in there. Granted, at any given time 20% of us will be out smoking on the balcony (or in the outside loo on the balcony, of which Bryan apparently owns 30% - such are the joys and the vagaries of French property law), but even so ... especially as Karen will be there, and all by herself she manages to occupy 120% of any available space, regardless of its actual dimensions. We shall just have to try not to swing any cats (for that would be cruel, under the circumstances).

And in major horticultural news, we have discovered that neglect bears fruit. As it were. After years of carefully looking after the one remaining pot plant in the house - watering it every 6 months or so, whether it needed it or not, and occasionally chatting to it (usually, I must admit, Improving Words along the lines of "buck your bloody ideas up and get some leaves or it's down to the tip for you") - the damn thing persisted in alternating between withered and black and slimy, so eventually we gave up. So now it's decided to flower. Probably sees it as its only chance to reproduce before it dies: I just hope it's hermaphroditic. If not, it'll be sadly disappointed.

Two or three times a year we organise a little party up at Cote Rousse (this being the little business park where we have our offices)  and Friday was the latest. It's an excuse for vast quantities of wine, cheese, saucisson, pâté, rillettes and the best bread in Savoie, and there's always a theme. This time it was "L'art Contemporain Rétro", which is kind of an oxymoron, featuring works "from private collections" by such celebrated artists as R'no Djorg  and JuanCarlos Büyio. Here, for instance, is a unique specimen: "Le rétro on s'en balance". Could be yours very cheaply.

I should also say that these affairs are also an occasion for some rather stretched puns.

By the way, I would suggest that if any of you had plans to come and visit, do put them off. Margo is supposed to be getting her enormous quilting machine sometime Real Soon Now, so the TV room and her office have exchanged places, the corridor upstairs is lined with tottering piles of boxes, the guest room has become a warehouse and yet curiously enough, there's even less room than there was. Despite the net contents of the place having actually diminished, as she's even - gasp - thrown some stuff away! I suppose it may have been unwise to expose some of those boxes to the light of day: the contents seem to have grown.

It's official: I am a Kinder kid (that's the chocolate bar, not the German for "child"). I sent off an apologetic e-mail to my petite suisse Sandrine at Hach-Lange, excusing myself for having been so stupid as to use CloseHandle() rather than RegCloseKey() in a driver and thus causing the system to bug-check at load time. She replied, telling me that I was what they called a Kinder: brown on the outside, blonde on the inside. Very sweet of her.

And it's been nothing or a double helping for TV series:  being polite pays, apparently. But having downloaded seven different episodes on Friday morning, I have to ask myself: does the entire American population sit on its collective fat arse watching TV for 6 consecutive hours on Thursday nights? It's not that I'm ungrateful, just wondering. I mean, I'll be catching up for the next week.

Anyway, I'd better go make a quiche for this little moveable feast, then start writing a web server. Amazing what one can find to do to occupy one's foggy Sundays.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

An icy blast from the tundra ...

I realised on Saturday that Jeremy has not yet developed The Scowl. Wearing it I can wander around the market unmolested by panhandlers, mime artists, people with little puppies, comfortably (I cannot say "gainfully", not with a straight face anyway) employed civil servants safely protesting against whatever government reform project is flavour du jour, and even those who would sell me a little sticker that says "Hug a Leper". In fact I'm protected from everyone, with the exception of those tenacious old hags with their wheelie bins, and at least they're not trying to sell me anything, just cause me extreme physical discomfort and even that's just regrettable collateral damage in their quest to jump to the head of the queue.

It's easy enough to do: knitted, lowered brows, face set, posture that says that if you weren't on medication you'd have strangled someone by now, or stuffed leeks up both ends ... basically you want to look like a disagreeable sociopath on a hair-trigger with body odour. Steve Jobs, but smellier.

I personally have no problems with that, but Jerry can't seem to get the hang of it. He wanders around, beaming a happy innocent smile and looking as if his only purpose in life is to make others happy (and, incidentally, towering head and shoulders over all and sundry - don't think I risk losing him at the market ever again), and people press flyers into his hands and smile at him: bless him for being so good, for all I know. ("Bless you, young master!" they cry. Hmm, don't know about that one.)

I taxed him with this, and he beamed at me and said something along the lines of "I really prefer to let them believe that someone is going to waste their time reading their useless toilet-paper screeds. It's more fun". Which is, when you think about it, really quite evil. I'm reassured. Still think my way's quicker, though.

And in further non-news, it's bloody snowing. Again. Could someone please explain to me why we chose to live in the mountains? Because I've forgotten. Bloody Alzheimer's.

Whatever, because it's cold (like about -3° at the moment), and snowing, and he caught cold up at St Hilaire on Saturday night and consequently had to spend Monday at home rather than go back to the lycée (well, I had to drop him off in the evening, for otherwise his life would have been miserable and never mind that it stuck my schedule off by 45 minutes) - it apparently seemed to Jerry like a good idea to crank the heating up to red-hot and open the window wide. Sometimes I wonder. About what exactly is in fact keeping his ears apart, for instance. I've yet to come up with an entirely satisfactory answer which does not involve concrete and steel reinforcing rods.

And whilst I'm in the mood for a good whinge, I'd like to address a plea to the American people. Please, please, get over your bloody holiday season, stop watching heavily-kitted out giant microcephalics throwing their balls around, and put some decent TV back on? It's your gift to the Free World™. There's been nowt but bloody awful "reality" shows on for the past few weeks, and I for one am starting to get boils on my brain.

I mean, does anyone actually watch "The Real Housewives of (insert expletive and city name here)"? Or "Extreme Gay Plastic Surgery Makeover"? Does anyone care about the extremely boring family lives of ageing ex-rock stars who can't even string a coherent sentence together thanks to 70 years of mainlining caustic soda (or whatever)? And if so, why aren't they in an asylum? Please give us back "Bones", and "Castle", and "Fringe" ... and if you could see your way clear to a new season of "Warehouse 13" that would be much appreciated. Thank you for listening, now please just get your act together.

Have I mentioned, by the way, that it's snowing? Again? Nice fine icy powder, made for a slow trip down from the office to the VRU this evening. I really, really hate that. Especially as right now, around 22:00, it's starting to get heavy. You may laugh on the sunny side of the world, but you don't have to live with the bloody stuff.

And the next day ... I really must be turning into a blonde. It's true that there were "only" 10cm of snow on the ground when I left home, but you'd think that the number of cars in  ditches heading down to the nationale would"ve hinted at trouble to come: at least, to anyone with half a grain of sense. I'm not entirely sure how I arrived at the office up at Chambéry le Haut, but I did: to find about 50cm of the stuff all over the carpark, which was occupied by about five cars. And of course, the snowplough hadn't paid a visit.

So I came to the conclusion that if I stayed for the day I was going to be staying, like it or not, for the night, and decided to pack some gear into the car and head back home. Rather than down to the supermarket for some pyjamas and a toothbrush. It seemed a reasonable idea at the time ... one thing about the snow: it does bring out the community spirit in people. I needed a helpful push at least three times, trying to negociate the right-angled wrongly-cambered downwards-sloping turn at the end of the street: the last time half the high-school soccer team turned up. For which I was extremely grateful.

The autoroute was a bit better, but once I left that it was purely by good luck rather than skill that I managed to make it up the twisty hill and then - illegally - down our little street to get home. Some days you really do not want to leave the house. Shall have to find the right pair of chains in the garage: it's still snowing heavily and supposed to continue that way until tomorrow morning. Seems there's already a metre of the stuff up in the Bauges above us. Humbug.

Thursday, of course, things were absolutely chaotic: oddly enough for a city that likes to style itself Capital of the Alps there aren't enough snowploughs to go around and public transport ground to a halt at the first sign of a snowflake (you could be forgiven for thinking we were in Britain), so even though I made it up to the office with only a few queasy moments at the corner of doom I rather regretted it, as the carpark was still under 40cm of snow. And as everyone else had made it up too and were going around like mad things trying to find a clear park, you can probably imagine the mess. And then of course it froze overnight - and I mean froze, like -10° - so there was ice under the snow this morning (emphatically not one of my favorite things) and to top it off it snowed again this afternoon.

Better - above all warmer - weather is predicted for the weekend: I suppose I shall see tomorrow. Right now I'm not actually that hopeful. In fact, right now I'm off to bed with a nice hot cocoa .(To be completely honest, some chocolate and a glass of red. It's about the same thing. Well, there's chocolate, anyway.)

 As it happens, today dawned bright and sunny and, somewhat to my surprise, stayed that way. So I trundled off to Chambéry to do the shopping, whip through the market and - I thought, seeing as Sophie is off somewhere for the weekend - have a drink or two with Bryan to recover from the rigours of the morning. So I sent him off a text and when all was done headed off to Cardinal's. (And don't blame me, they put the apostrophe there. In fact, they call it "O'Cardinal's": supposed to sound more Irish that way I suppose. It is one of the few bars in Chambéry where you can get a Guinness, if that happens to be on your to-do list.)

Whatever, as Bryan hadn't got back to me I was sitting there nursing a solitary glass of Gascon white when the phone exterminated at me: a guy I know reasonably well from work (he's the one who keeps old OS-9 systems going) who wanted to warn me that he was getting English spam purporting to be from my phone number, and that perhaps I should speak to my phone company about it.

I was puzzled, but thanked him and made a mental note to get in touch - if possible - with the customer "support" demons from Bouygues; then, feeling rather like having a second glass but not really wanting to have it all alone, I rang Bryan to find out where the hell he was and why he wasn't drinking.

The penny dropped when Bruno answered my call. The evil Samsung software had imported all my "B" contacts with the same phone number. No wonder poor Bruno was perplexed, getting an SMS that asked him if he'd "Care to partake in a glass of the amber fluid?".

Ah well. I swear that's the last time I actually warn a piece of software ahead of time that it's going to be removed just as soon as I've had it do the one and only job it was installed for: don't need any more spiteful cockups like that. I mean, if I want something like that to happen, I'm quite capable of screwing things up all by myself, thanks very much.

Anyway, it was still a lovely day, so having loaded up on bits of duck (which are now sitting in the fridge with chopped orange peel, shallots, badiane, cinnamon and kosher salt pressed into their flesh, ready to be turned into confit tomorrow) and some noix de St-Jacques (which are destined for tonight's dinner; boring I know but I like it and I'm cooking) I thought I'd head off to Grenoble for the afternoon. Not for shopping, just for a wander - although I did wind up with some Philadelphia cream cheese and some white chocolate nibs for couverture, which are mine and in a sealed jar. I was really tempted by the milk chocolate and caramel nibs, but I thought I'd best be reasonable and anyway I can always go back.

Incidentally, now is a good time to be shopping for food. In about three weeks it'll be even better, but in the run-up to Christmas places like Aldi are hocking off my favourite popsicle lobsters and 300gm bags of frozen scallops at €3.70 a pop, which is pretty bloody good. (If you happen to like these things, of course.) And in the alleys at Carrefour people are tempting one with little treats: I went past the guy handing out wedges of foie gras poelé on wholemeal toast fried in the duck fat three times, until he started to get suspicious.
So having started at St Bruno to look around my favourite Asiatic grocery (but there's a limit to how many packets of exotic spice and sauce mixes one can have that even I consider reasonable, so I left with my hands empty) I started wandering kind of aimlessly back towards St-Claire. Well, I say "aimlessly" but really I knew that The Cake Shop was somewhere around, and sure enough I found it. That, incidentally, is where the cream cheese and the chocolate nibs came from.

So having paid my respects there I carried on through the marché de Noël in place Victor Hugo, along to rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau and thence to rue Bayard, for the sole purpose of drooling through the windows at the selection of whiskies, rum, foie gras and, incidentally, cheeses at Laiterie Bayard, which you really ought to visit should ever you find yourself in the vicinity. Unlikely, I know, but stranger things have happened at sea (as Blackadder doubtless reflected, after his little trip with Captain Rum).

And from there it's but a hop, skip and a jump to the little alleyways behind les Halles, where one of my preferred épiceries lurks (but I don't actually need any more decent curry or green-tea chocolate bars at the moment, and anyway there were far too many people in there) so I just dribbled a bit and went on my way to the Irish Boutique, where I also did not buy any whisky. The queues were out the door. Nation of bloody alcoholics.

But right now it's probably time to whip up a salad, start some rice cooking, and get out the frying pan for those scallops. Especially as I've already opened the white, on purpose like.

Next time, if you is good, thee shall have a recipe. Or at least, a picture of what it looks like.